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Who Cares About the Children of Prisoners in New Zealand? A Journey from Research to Practice

Liz Gordon is Managing Director of Pūkeko Research Ltd, a research company that works across the social, education and justice policy areas. She is writing a history of the Howard League for Penal Reform in New Zealand.

Before 2009, little research had been undertaken in New Zealand on the situation of the children of prisoners. Agencies such as Pillars Inc, a charity supporting these children, looking to undertake evidence-based practice, were forced to rely on models imported from other countries, especially the United States. This is despite the fact that New Zealand has a high level of imprisonment, at 193 per 100,000, approximately one third higher than Australia. In response to this, Pillars sought and received funding for a two-year research study and interviewed 368 men and women in nine prisons, and 72 families of prisoners (with the families, at least one caregiver, and sometimes a child, interviewed). Reports were produced on the findings in 2009 and 2010, and in 2011 a further report considered the implications for research and practice. As well, a practice manual was produced, along with resource kits for teachers and GPs. A large number of seminars and report-back meetings were held with government agencies, and a report was commissioned by Te Puni Kokiri, the Ministry of Māori Development, on the Māori data, which constituted half of the overall data. Subsequently, a number of further opportunities for research and dialogue have emerged. This article reports the core findings of the study: that the children of prisoners are not doing well, and that social support and justice agencies, whilst often having good intentions, contribute to this through poor, absent or inappropriate practices. The article concludes with a discussion of the impact of this research programme on policy and practice in New Zealand.

(2015) Vol 32 Law in Context p46

   
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